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Boarding, leasing, insurance, and law

From: Chris & Susan

Dear Jessica,

We recently purchased a home with an Equestrian boarding facility that has stalls for 30 horses as well as pastures for up to 26 horses. Although we have several questions, we will narrow it down to one specific one.

We have a couple of boarders who just starting leasing their horses. They have not told us directly, we noticed other people riding the boarder's horses. We do not know what is customary, but we feel that they should be leasing the horses through us. Mainly, so that we are aware of who they are and have a current agreement regarding the use of the property & a hold harmless agreement with the people who will be using our facility. One boarder let someone lease the horse for a lesson with a trainer without having them pay an arena usage fee to us.

What are your thoughts on this subject. We are concerned that there will be people other than the boarders using the facility without having the proper agreements signed as well as with the wear and tear of the facility. We appreciate any information you can pass along.


Chris & Susan

Hi Chris and Susan! You are right to be concerned; these are issues that can affect your liability and even your insurance coverage, as well as your professional reputation and your enjoyment (or not) of your own property.

If I were you, I would, first of all, talk with my insurance provider. The agent who provided you with your policies -- farmowners, professional errors and omissions, and CCC (care, custody, and control) can probably give you good advice about the practices you can afford to allow and not allow on your property.

At the same time, I would consult a lawyer, and not just any lawyer, but one specializing in equine law. I don't know where you live, but I can highly recommend Julie Fershtman in Michigan. If she can't help you herself, I'm sure that she can suggest a lawyer in your state who can do the necessary work for you.

Don't worry about what is "customary" -- that varies from barn to barn. Worry about what is safe, what is sensible, and what is LEGAL. You need to have information on every person who rides at your facility -- not just a signed release, but medical information in case of an emergency. Every person who rides at your facility needs to have information about the rules, regulations, and fees; otherwise, you will have loose dogs running around, children being dropped off for free babysitting, cars blocking your private drive, and strangers using your arena as an ashtray.

At most barns, horse owners ARE allowed to lease their horses, but the arrangement needs to be formal, and you need to be involved. You must know, at all times, who is physically, morally, and financially responsible for each horse. Otherwise, if a horse in your care is sick or injured, whom will you call? Anyone leasing a horse that is stabled at your facility should be known to you and should have signed a contract with you, provided contact and medical information, and so on.

A lease is a contract; the person leasing the horse takes on certain specified responsibilities for that horse. You need to know what those responsibilities are. If people who are NOT your boarders are using your facilities, there will be uncompensated wear and tear at the very least, and in all probability there will also be uncompensated damage. It is YOUR barn, and it is YOUR responsibility to control what goes on and who does what. Granted, you can't monitor every boarder, every minute of the day, but good contracts, clear (and posted!) rules, and strong enforcement of the rules and the terms of the contract will go a long way toward protecting you in the event of trouble. If, some day, you are taken to court because someone was hurt at your barn, I hope that you'll be able to prove, without effort, that you ran the facility safely, carried proper insurance, posted the official liability act signs for your state, kept full contact and medical information on every rider, and provided qualified supervision for minors.

There are a host of things that you'll want to consider, and put in writing, if you are going to get into the boarding/leasing business.

You may need to specify, for instance, how often and when a lessee may ride a leased horse, whether the lessee may take lessons, and with whom. You will almost certainly need to remind everyone, IN PRINT, that all of your farm rules, as well as good horsemanship and safety practices, must be followed at all times. You should have an escape clause, so that you can terminate any lease (or boarding arrangement) immediately should the person in question ignore the rules and safety procedures, abuse or misuse any horse (or indeed your facilities and equipment). What would you do, for instance, if a rider you didn't know and hadn't signed a contract with you were to ride without a helmet and become injured, then sue? I can tell you right now that your legal position wouldn't be a good one.

If your boarders are going to be able to lease their horses to other riders, you'll need to know, OFFICIALLY, precisely who is responsible for each veterinary expense or related expense, how to contact that person, and so on. If your boarders are going to lease their horses, everyone concerned needs to know how and when to report any injury to a horse - or to equipment. And that leads you to another concern:

Whose equipment will be used? The horse owner's? Yours? The lessee's? If yours, what are the fees, and when are those fees due? At the same time as boarding/leasing fees? When are those due?

If you allow outside instructors on the place, you should have contracts with THEM. They need to comply with your rules regarding safety, behaviour, non-abuse of horses and equipment, smoking, drinking, etc. They also need to provide you with proof of their own liability coverage, and they should be prepared to pay a fee for the use of your facility, each time they come.

These are just a few of the things you'll need to think about and act upon. Discuss your situation and plans, at length, with a good lawyer specializing in equine law. Talk with your insurance agent -- a good agent with horse-farm experience will be able to give you good advice about rules, regulations, and safety precautions. Do the necessary paperwork, and obtain the necessary insurance coverage. It won't be cheap, but it will be infinitely cheaper than the cost of dealing with a crisis AFTER it happens. Get each rider to sign a contract with you and provide you with medical and other necessary information. Provide each rider with a copy of the contract, including a copy of your comprehensive barn rules (which should also be posted in various places around your facility). Whatever happens, you'll still need to monitor your farm and the people who ride there, but at least you won't be putting yourself, unknowing, at unnecessary risk. Insurance companies aren't always very kind and understanding when a farm-owner tries to collect after a fire, say, occurs because a friend of someone who was leasing a horse came over to ride the horse, brought two other friends, and all the non-riding friends sat on the hay and smoked while they watched! The horse business does NOT function "on a handshake". Everything must be written down, signed and sealed and filed. Otherwise, your boarding barn will be an invitation to financial disaster. Don't take the risk. Too many farmowners have found out the hard way just how easy it is to lose their business and their farms. NOW, before anything untoward happens, is the perfect time to bring in the professionals and take full advantage of their expertise.


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